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Category: Media

5 Lessons I Learned As A Speaker At SxSW

| March 14, 2012

the line for the men's room at SxSW.

1. Take lots of photos.

Invite a friend to your panel and make sure she gets a photo of you at the mic, answering Q&A or shaking attendees hands. You'll want documentation of your experience for tweeting, Facebooking and sharing in order to raise your brand awareness and promote your panel.  Of course it's not all business. Like this gem of a photo originally taken in the line for the men's bathroom. Have you ever seen a line for the men's room? Only at SxSW!

2. Make panel titles applicable to general audiences, even if it’s community-related.

I learned this the hard way. Refrain from using buzz words and community-specific words and phrases in panel titles. I repeat: I learned this the hard way. My talk was called Subtext & Shipping: The Lesbian Community Online. There are very few people who know what ‘shipping’ is. (It’s the process of placing two TV or movie characters in a relationship to bring visibility to same sex couples).  We had a great turnout but I noticed that other panels, whose focus was also on a niche community, made their community’s practices applicable to general audiences through easily accessible titles.  It may seem obvious but there were many of us in the same boat.

3. Don’t assume your audience knows everything...and nothing.

The audience at SxSW is incredibly informed but there’s nothing worse than feeling like an outsider in a room of experts. By establishing early on that key words and phrases will be briefly defined ensures that both in-the-know and newbie attendees are on the same page. We defined our context and key ideas in the first five minutes and it lead to one of the more beneficial and interesting Q & A sessions. This is also the easiest and most direct way to convey your expertise. 

4. Preparation is key.

This might seem obvious, but while my co-panelist and I prepped for months before the event, we were shocked to attend other panels where speakers introduced themselves with an apology for not being prepared. Needless to say, there was a quick exit of attendees who were off to the next panel. 

5. Feature hashtags prominently.

We put them on every slide and it came in handy since SxSW did not have them on our name cards as in previous years. Featuring the hash tag prominently ensures that everyone is using the same tag (#sxWomen vs #SxSWWomen) and consistently throughout the talk. It was really surprising to me how many panels DIDN’T have hashtags. How can you possible live tweet that panel? Put the hashtag on every slide. You’ll have an online presence during your panel and allows others from outside the festival to RT and ask questions. Next year, panelists can use these metrics to advocate for their return.